New York PostChristopher Cameron
May 25, 2018
Sydney native Sasha Benz may work as the creative director of Montauk’s buzzy Surf Lodge, while her husband, Oliver, spins rare disco and funk records at that Hamptons party mecca — but when the couple first stumbled upon the hotel in 2012, they couldn’t even get past the bouncer.
“We were in Montauk for the weekend, and we said, ‘What is this place?’ We got to the front of the line and couldn’t get in,” Sasha tells Alexa. “I was like, ‘But we look hot!’ ” jokes Oli.
After working as models and stylists around the world, the pair had planned to leave New York and settle in Los Angeles. Their bags were packed. But after discovering Ditch Plains Beach, Oli fell in love with Montauk, which reminds him of an “eerie and artistic” version of Noosa, his chilled-out Australian hometown. “To me, it is heaven because you can surf every day,” he says.
Soon, Surf Lodge founder Jayma Cardoso recruited the couple to stay on full time, putting them (and their giant French mastiff) up in a shoebox apartment in the back of the venue. That’s when their house hunting began in earnest.
Last fall, Dylan Eckardt (the headline-grabbing Nest Seekers broker known as “The Prince of Montauk”), snagged them a traditional wood-shingle surf shack from the 1940s. The couple is slowly but surely turning it into their dream house, complete with “Mediterranean-meets-Bali-meets-Tulum-meets-Byron Bay” interiors.
The pair are doing most of the work themselves — with their two small children, 2-year-old Rhythm and 2-month-old Baybi, in tow.
“We had some bad experiences — we’d hire contractors who would start a job and just never show up again,” recounts Oli, 31, who handles stay-at-home-dad duties when he’s not DJing (or hammering). “It was actually easier to do the work myself. We saved money, and I learned. With the help of YouTube, you can basically get stuff done.”
“It was a good process, even though I was a crazy pregnant woman when we started all this,” adds Sasha, 32, who founded the fashion blog All My Friends Are Models, as well as a chic digital business-card app called Cinq. “I would come up with the concepts, show them photos and they would just get it done. It was Pinterest to reality.”
She says what began as a modest update to the 3,000-squarefoot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom house on West Lake Drive has morphed into a full-blown gut renovation, motivated by “a serious urge to nest.”
They raised the roof, knocked out walls and stairwells to open up the floor plan, ripped out carpets, poured concrete countertops, replaced cupboards and cabinetry with reclaimed-wood shelves, and painted everything white — to name just a few of their ambitious DIY projects.
“Oli was like, ‘Hey, we can just afford the house — let’s keep it as is.’ And I was like, ‘Let’s just make a few little changes!’” laughs Sasha. “The family that lived here before had six kids. It was built for a big family, which was great. But it had these ’90s orange-yellow walls and lots of tiny rooms and stairs. There were a lot of things that were unnecessary.”
The Benzes also realized that the Manhattan-industrial aesthetic of their own furniture didn’t sync with their new three-level beach chalet. “We had a lot of stuff from Restoration Hardware, and we swapped it out for more of an Etsy vibe,” explains Sasha.
After consulting the Internet, Oli discovered that he could give those dark-wood pieces a beach-chic vibe through aggressive sanding. “I found out that if I went really far back, the wood would look like it had rolled in the ocean for 50 years. So I did that to everything,” he says, including their coffee table, shelving and a custom-made bed frame.
What he couldn’t sand, he whitewashed. He also covered their pine-wood buffet, which looked “a bit studio,” in a rough plaster and painted it with a white gloss. “It works,” says Oli, who used a similar treatment on the home’s fireplaces.
When he was building from scratch, Oli painstakingly sourced timber from Antique Lumber Co. in Wainscott — including the reclaimed hemlock he used to create the staircase that’s become the centerpiece of their living room.
Sasha, meanwhile, swapped out their dishes for rustic clay bowls and mugs to complement the kitchen’s reclaimed wood and concrete surfaces. She replaced old blinds with light linens, and updated all the hardware in the house to oil-rubbed bronze. The living room got a large white rug from Serena & Lily and marble coffee tables from MCM House in Australia.
Shunning an overly formal designer look, Sasha opted for quirky custom pieces: a zinc dining table from Custom Metal Home in Illinois, one-off chairs from Indonesia, a frontdoor frame handmade in Jamesport using 10 separate mirrors sealed together. Other comfy touches include Maison Margiela candles, hanging plants and apropos coffee-table books, like “The House That Pinterest Built,” by actress Diane Keaton.
By contrast, Oli’s studio/ man cave on the lower level (where he displays his collection of eight guitars, turntables and a custom neon light that reads “Holy S – – t I Love You”) is John Varvatos-inspired.
“I want it to be so different from the rest of the house that it’s a shock when you walk in,” Oli says. “She’s fighting me on that by giving me white rugs. I am like, ‘That’s cool… for a big ol’ red-wine stain!’ ”
Both agree that with two young kids and the summer season upon them, finishing their home — whatever “finishing” actually means — may take years.
“It has to be a hybrid of natural and stylized,” Sasha says. “It has to smell and look nice but not be too staged. Oli especially is all about comfort and ‘home.’ ”
Outside, he has cleared and leveled the lawn in pursuit of a rather unusual luxury: a miniature version of Manchester United’s Old Trafford soccer pitch, complete with soccer goals, flag posts, a halfway line and a penalty box. “We’ll have three-on-threes every Sunday,” he says. “I am not kidding.”
Sasha, however, has different plans for the backyard. “I want a pool, gazebo, outdoor dining area and fireplace,” she says. “The soccer pitch fits inside of that,” Oli pipes in. “I can feel it.”
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson